Extraordinary Limits

Many Space Agencies, Similar Goals

untitled(Photo: The Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), at the , is an array of six 22-m antennas used for radio astronomy to explore space. Courtesy of Narrabri Observatory.)


The International Space Station is one example of how countries collaborate in the exploration of space. It avoids the duplication of efforts and expenses while reaching for dramatic goals, such as a mission to Mars. That cooperation proves governments can rise above petty differences. But it’s only part of the larger, costly effort to explore such an inhospitable environment.

Space programs have varied missions and areas of research. Some commonalities are predictable. Whether based in Europe – the European Space Agency (ESA) has 22 member states and agreements with seven more – Asia or the Americas, the objectives of most government-run programs include an economic goal.

Most articulate some form of nationalism and frequently an altruistic component such as improving life on earth. Considering how each shares that program with the public offers some clues about how those goals are prioritized.

Room for improvement

Word choice and pictures illustrate the predominantly male and mostly Caucasian population pursuing this work. While hardly surprising given the years of exclusion of women and people of color in the study of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects, the lopsided gender influence can be seen in early and persistent priorities of space explorations: civil defense, competition, economic development.

Most space agencies are also pursuing educational and environmental initiatives. The descriptions of history and program summaries are typically included after the initial emphasis on protection from aggression by and gaining an economic advantage over other countries. The evolution of space exploration reveals a growing interest in encompassing deeper and varied interests, including the opportunity to take better care of our planet.

How each country pursues space exploration is a mix of shared interests and the unique execution of the pursuit.

Space Marathon

In 2015 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) adopted an “Action Declaration” that makes a commitment to “jubilation for human society, aspiration for creation, responsibility and pride.” JAXA is unusual in its move away from the scientific and economic lingo. It pledges to “provide enjoyment and surprise to people by evolving our lives” and “faithfully act with responsibility and pride to confidently meet the expectations of society.”

This year India’s pursuit to “design and development of launch vehicles and related technologies for providing access to space” gained attention when it successfully tested a reusable space vehicle, dubbed the “mini-space-shuttle.” The Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) is also heavily invested in the development of useful satellite technology.

The Australian Civil Space has a functional emphasis on cooperation. It promotes partnerships with three different private space-industry groups to facilitate the inclusion of business interests. And strong ties exist with many other space programs due to the country’s position on the planet and world-class, high-power telescope installations.

Tim Peake, the UK’s most recent visitor to the ISS, is creating quite a stir in his country. The regular school day was suspended for many so kids could watch Peake’s launch into space on a six-month mission. The UK Space Agency is using social media outlets to engage the minds and hearts of the earth-bound. Peake even participated in the 2016 London Marathon via a specialized exercise treadmill.

(Tim Peake talks about living in space)

People frequently ask, “Why are we doing this?” How each country answers that question springs from culture and national interests while encompassing curiosity and learning. It’s the commonalities more than the differences that appear to drive space agencies. © Margo Pierce

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